A video voyeur's dream camera

A video voyeur's dream camera »Play Video
You're at your kids swim meet. You think nothing of a adult with a video camera filming the action including teenagers getting in and out of the pool in their Speedos.

You assume the adult may be filming their kid's performance because that's what parents do. But upon closer look, you notice their viewfinder and see the swimmers are shadowed with green and white images.

This is you first clue that the cameraman may be trying to see through the swimsuits of the kids.

It's a scenario that is totally plausible in this age of digital photography, but as the Problem Solvers found out, Washington's voyeurism law may need a high-tech update to make it illegal.

Using products readily available online, we took a 10-year-old Sony TRV-8 mini DV video camera and turned it into an infrared camera capable of seeing through certain fabrics.

Our camera has a night shot function which, when turned on, allows infrared light to be recorded. Next we bought a $20 infrared filter that removes visible light and screwed it on the end the camera lens.

Using the infrared filter, with the night vision turned on, the only thing our old mini DV camera recorded was infrared light. This allowed us to see through some envelopes, colored plastic and various synthetic blend fabrics. But you can't see through everything. It all depends on how the materials are made.

KOMO Web Producer Rose Egge volunteered to be filmed with our camera. Her paisley top made from rayon and polyester was not see through to the eye or our camera in its normal mode. But after we turned on the night vision and added the filter, we could see the skin on her back and two tattoos at her waistline.

"That is amazing. You really can't see the shirt at all," Egge said after we showed her the tape. "It's a little nerve racking that someone could just see right through your clothes."

There are plenty of videos on the Internet that show much more. The main target of video voyeurs using these cameras appears to be people in thin Speedo style swimsuits. Pay and free websites showcase amateur infrared videos taken at swim meets and at the beach where the intimate areas of female swimmers were clearly visible.

One site even offers detailed instructions on how to make your own infrared video camera and how to profit from the videos.

The camera we created is by no means on the level of true infrared cameras or FLIR cameras used by the military and law enforcement, nor is it as thorough when compared to the infrared screening of passengers at some international airports.

The methodology to convert a regular digital camera with night vision capabilities into an infrared camera is nothing new. In fact, Sony sold 700,000 TRV-75 mini DV camera beginning in 1997 that needed no added filters to see through a person's clothing. The cameras became a favorite for voyeurs.

So digital camera manufacturers began to make it harder to covert a personal digital camera into an infrared see-through camera by hard wiring the internal electronics to prevent night-vision style voyeuristic viewing in bright sunlight conditions.

But many online retailers offer current camcorders and digital still cameras with the manufacturers' modifications removed. We also found one site that will take your existing digital camera, make it an infrared camera and sent it back to you for a fee.

We showed what our camera was capable of to Jolene Janz, the victim of an infamous upskirt case in 2000. She was attending the Bite of Seattle at Seattle center when she noticed a guy holding a video camera by his knee filming up her skirt. She and her boyfriend chased and caught the guy. Richard Sorrells was arrested and convicted of voyeurism.

But his conviction was overturned by the State Supreme Court in 2002 on the grounds that state's voyeurism law didn't protect people from being filmed in any manner when in a public place, like Seattle Center.

"It was out in the open, we have evidence, so I was pretty angered" Janz said of the court's decision.

"What you are showing me is terrible," she said. "We need to educate people about the technology that is out there that can do this."

In 2003, the state's voyeurism law was amended to tighten loopholes that lead to Sorrells' conviction being overturned. The key addition was the prohibition of filming "the intimate areas of another person without that person knowledge and consent and under circumstances where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether in a public or private place."

But the law has not been tested, at least in King County, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the county prosecutor's office.

"One attorney on our staff believes a video camera that can see through clothing would be covered by the existing voyeurism law, but we haven't seen any cases like this," he said.

We showed our findings to a lawmaker who could spearhead a change in the law, Democratic State Senator Adam Kline of Seattle. Kline chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

"When you are out there in a bathing suit your allowing the world to see you in your bathing suit. You not allowing the world to see underneath your bathing suit, " said Kline. " Who knew that technology allowed that. I didn't either until today."

We then handed our video camera to Kline let him film me. Underneath my shirt was a sign that read "Is this legal?"

"I guess this is the question you want to ask me," Kline said while looking at the camera's viewfinder, which showed the sign through my shirt.

"If we are going to make that criminal, we have to pass a law to do that. Yes I'd be happy to do it," he said.

California's voyeurism law, consider by some privacy advocates as the most comprehensive in the country, has been amended to include the words "under and through clothing."

While Washington's law was updated in 2003 to prevent upskirting, it may need another change to stay current with digital voyeurs.